NYC police brutality up under Zero Tolerance, says rights group

Tom Boland (
Wed, 15 Jul 1998 19:29:12 -0700 (PDT)


     By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) - The head of the largest U.S.
human rights group on Wednesday lambasted New York City mayor
Rudolph Giuliani for dismissing a report that accused the city of failing to
hold police accountable for abuse and brutality.

The report by Human Rights Watch on police behaviour in 14 U.S. cities
noted that complaints against police in New York rose significantly since
the launch of the city's crackdown on petty crimes.

In response, Giuliani told reporters last week that the report was ``patently
dishonest,'' calling it ``left-wing ideology working itself out, as opposed to
looking at the facts.''

That response drew the ire of Human Rights Watch Executive Director
Kenneth Roth.

``Rather than engage in a serious discussion of the problem of police
brutality in New York City, you attacked those who raised the issue,'' Roth
wrote in his letter to the mayor. ``You sought to dismiss our study with a
few facile and tangential arguments.''

Aggressive policing -- in particular the zero-tolerance policy toward petty
criminals like subway fare-beaters and graffiti artists -- under the Giuliani
administration has been credited with pushing serious crime to its lowest
rate since the early 1960s.

But critics, including Human Rights Watch and minority and civil liberties
activists, voice concern about an accompanying rise in complaints of
harassment and brutality.

``Their brutality cannot be dismissed as the acts of 'rogue' officers, as you
have tried to do, because your administration has not paid sufficient
attention to the preventive systems for dealing with police abuse,'' Roth

The Giuliani administration has undermined institutions designed to deal
with the problem, specifically the Civilian Complaint Review Board and the
police Internal Affairs Bureau, Roth charged.

Not only have complaints against police risen, but the city has spent ``tens
of millions of dollars'' on civil damages to victims of police abuse, he

A spokeswoman at the mayor's press office said she had not seen the letter
and that the mayor had no immediate response to it.

In its report, Human Rights Watch said police brutality was one of the most
serious, enduring and divisive human rights violations in the United States,
and said blacks and Hispanics were the victims in disproportionate

Among the New York cases attracting attention has been that of former
police officer Francis Livoti, who was accused of using an illegal
chokehold on a man who died in custody.

Last month, Livoti, who had a history of abuse complaints against him,
was convicted of violating the victim's civil rights. At the trial, prosecutors
presented evidence suggesting that others on the police force tried to cover
up for him.

Also last month, a homeless man was allegedly shot by an off-duty police
officer as the man tried to wash the officer's car windows for a tip at a
traffic light.

And five police officers face state and federal criminal charges after a
Haitian immigrant said he was beaten and tortured last summer at a
Brooklyn precinct house.

The mayor appointed a task force last year to investigate the state of
police-community relations but later dismissed most of its findings and


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